U.S. Solar Jobs Climb 22% as Clean Power Aids Economic Recovery

U.S. solar companies boosted their employee rolls by 22 percent last year, and now employ 86 percent more workers than they did in 2010, driven by rising demand in the world’s third-largest market.

Almost 174,000 people are working in the U.S. solar industry, compared with 143,000 in 2013 and 93,500 in 2010, according to a report today from the Solar Foundation. Another 36,000 solar jobs may be added this year, including factory workers, salespeople, installers, developers and researchers.

The growth indicates that solar energy is one of the industries helping drive an economic recovery in the U.S., while slumping oil prices are prompting oil companies to reduce capital spending and cut employment. About 3 million Americans found work last year, the most in 15 years, and one out of every 78 new positions was in solar.

“These are good, high-paying, high-skilled American jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit.

About 97,000 people worked last year as system installers, with 32,000 in manufacturing and 20,000 in sales. Approximately 15,000 helped develop projects and another 9,000 performed work that includes research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. rooftop developer, hired 4,000 people in 2014, almost doubling its headcount to 9,000, Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said yesterday in an interview.

Jobs in the U.S. solar industry can’t be shipped overseas, Rive said. Fewer than 20 percent are in manufacturing, a sector threatened after government-backed Chinese panel makers flooded the market and drove down prices, leading to a trade dispute.

“These jobs will never be able to go to China -- it’s impossible,” Rive said. “And they’re not just located in specific hubs -- like technology in Northern California, entertainment in Southern California, the financial sector in New York. With solar, the jobs are super local, in your community.”

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